$230M Class Action Settlement in 2015 Santa Barbara Oil Spill
Source: Law Office of Cappello & Noël
Plains All American Pipeline has agreed to pay $230 million to fishers, fish processors and shoreline property residents who are members of two classes in a class action lawsuit filed against the company after a corroded pipeline spilled an estimated 15,000 barrels of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean in 2015. The class members are represented by Cappello & Noël LLP, Lieff Cabraser LLP, Keller Rohrback LLP and Audet & Partners. (Keith Andrews et al. v. Plains All American Pipeline, L.P., Case No. 2:15-cv-04113-PSG-JEMx)
Plains operated 130 miles of pipeline used to transport crude oil from the Santa Barbara coast to inland refinery markets in California.
Due to failed maintenance and extensive pipeline corrosion, Plains was found criminally liable in 2018 for the oil spill. The spill devastated the fishing industry and polluted coastal properties from Santa Barbara County to Los Angeles County. These class members will now be compensated for their damages.
“It took seven years of extensive litigation, but with the hard work of Federal District Court Judge Philip S. Gutierrez who kept tight reins on the litigation, the dedication of the plaintiffs’ team of law firms and determined mediators, a meaningful settlement was reached just short of a jury trial that was fully primed to be tried by the plaintiffs on June 2,” said A. Barry Cappello, managing partner at Cappello & Noël, and lead trial counsel for the victims of the spill.
The plaintiffs' team was headed by three law firms. They include Cappello & Noël with partners A. Barry Cappello, Leila Noël, Larry Conlan and David Cousineau (Cappello litigated the 1969 Union Oil spill in Santa Barbara, the environmental disaster that ignited the environmental movement in the U.S.); Robert Nelson of Lieff Cabraser with Wilson Dunleavey and Nimish Desai (Lieff Cabraser and Nelson have represented class members in large class action litigations including environmental disasters such as BP-Horizon); and Lynn Sarko, Juli Farris and Matt Preusch of Keller Rohrback (whose class action experience includes the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation). The three teams were assisted by William Audet and his firm Audet & Partners LLP.
The Lieff Cabraser team primarily led the class certification effort, the Keller team focused on the Fish Industry damages case and the Cappello & Noel team focused on the expert work demonstrating the size of the spill and the extent of its impact on the fishing areas and the coastal properties; they also led the trial preparation effort. These firms worked together on all aspects of the case assisting and supporting each other.
Instrumental in helping resolve the cases were mediators Judge Daniel Weinstein (Ret.) and Robert Meyer from JAMS, who met with the teams of lawyers over several years to get the parties to a resolution.
The matter is now before Judge Gutierrez for approval. If and when approval is obtained, class members will be notified and a court-approved plan of distribution will be created with $184 million distributed among the Fisher class and $46 million distributed among the Property class.
This settlement resolves one of two federal class actions the plaintiffs’ lawyers brought relating to the spill. A separate suit for owners of property where the pipeline broke and where Plains is attempting to put in an entirely new pipeline is still pending in federal court.
The plaintiff law firms also filed separate lawsuits on behalf of hundreds of workers and small businesses who were damaged when the oil spill decimated the local offshore oil industry that depended on the pipeline. Those claims are being litigated in Santa Barbara.
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